The ‘C’ Word
I remember being in primary school and making jokes about Coca Cola having drugs in it. At the time, I’m pretty sure it was only based on the fact that ‘coca’ was in the name which sounded a bit like ‘cocaine’, not on any research we had done on the brand; we were about 10 so I’d be more concerned if it was based on research. Come to think of it, it’s strange that kids were making jokes about cocaine at all but I think when you’re that age you are good at sensing what feels ‘taboo’ and leaning into it. I remember it also being the age where we started to indulge in swearing. There was a teaching assistant at the school who used to giggle at us saying mild swear words like ‘crap’ and the occasional ‘shit’. We had a lot of fun with her.
Since then, I’ve heard it said that the drink used to have cocaine in the formula. I’d never really looked into it or thought too much about it, but I’ve been sceptical every time someone has said it. It smacked of an old wives’ tale based on the brand name. Today, for some strange reason, I looked at the logo for Coca Cola as it sat on my television screen during an advert and started to really wonder where the name does come from. Time to do some research.
It turns out that the first recipe was created by a man called John Pemberton in 1885. John was a Confederate Colonel in the American Civil War, during which he was injured and became addicted to morphine. His intention was to create a substance which would cure his morphine addiction. A classic tactic to recover from an addiction – finding another substance that you deem less bad and getting yourself addicted to that instead. Like quitting smoking by becoming addicted to vaping.
In the original recipe were the ingredients Coca leaves, the plant used to produce cocaine, and African Kola nuts, which provided the drink with caffeine. These key ingredients formed the brand name. It was originally created as a tonic wine so was alcoholic, however the following year prohibition was introduced, so he changed the formula to make it alcohol free. Don’t worry – there was still plenty of coca in there. And Kola, presumedly.
Coca and opium tonics were becoming all the rage at the time, with people like Sigmund Freud claiming that consuming them can provide significant health benefits. Two of the ailments they believe it helped to cure were impotence and depression… How wrong they were about both of those things. I was surprised to read about Sigmund Freud’s love affair with cocaine, but then I wondered why I was surprised. I know hardly anything about the guy, other than the fact that he was seen to revolutionise the field of psychology, I believe. He wrote an essay titled ‘Über Coca’ (translates to ‘About coke’) which is both incredibly satisfying to say and also reminiscent of most of London’s streets on a weekend – lots of Ubers around and lots of young professionals with moon-pupils climbing into them, looking fidgety.
By the year 1900, cocaine use was much more widespread in society. This meant that the negative effects of it were also becoming better known, and in 1903 the Coca Cola company caved to public pressure and removed the coca from the drink. I wonder if they knew that a legend would be born that day. The old wives’ tale that is actually true. So true, in fact, that it remains part of the brand name to this day – a brand that is one of the most recognisable in the world.
So, cocaine wasn’t only in the drink, but it was actually seen as appealing enough to stick in the brand name itself to make sure people knew that they were getting coca when consuming it. I find myself more boggled at how many times I have seen the name Coca Cola in my life and never looked into it. It goes to show that we become acclimatised to the world around us. Huge brands like Coca Cola are so omnipresent in our experience that we barely even notice them. Worse, we probably feel comforted by them. I say that this is ‘worse’ because we stop really seeing or trying to understand the damage they are doing. We welcome the Coca Cola logo like a good friend as we walk into a bar whilst on holiday. Some people I know really do only drink things like coke and claim to not ‘like’ water. It’s absolutely crazy.
I read that the brand is now sold in over 200 countries. I then Googled ‘How many countries are in the world’ and Google responded with “Well, curious Daniel, there are 197 countries in the world.” I then Googled ‘How many countries is coke sold in’ again just to double-check and it really does say it is sold in over 200 countries. Not so smart now, are you Google. The fact is that it is sold in almost every country in the world, and I read online that the ones they do not directly trade in, local businesses import it to meet local demand. You can’t go anywhere without seeing it; every time you see an article about oceanic plastics, there’s a cover photo with a coke bottle or can in the middle of the pile floating in the sea. It’s quite depressing.
So, how am I attempting to relate this to my writing? I’ve been approaching the blog in a way that feels a bit aimless recently. It has been my assumption that so long as I am living and breathing, I’ll find things to write about and it’ll be fine. There’s also various ‘series’ that I contribute towards such as The Chemotherapy Diaries which provide a regular cadence of posts. I had hoped to do a bit more writing for other sources as I have been approached by a few, but none of these have come to fruition yet. As a result, I haven’t been writing too often for the blog. Sitting there reading about the history of Coca Cola, I realised that there are always things to write about if you’re looking for them, and if I’m interested enough to continue reading, others will probably be interested in it too.
And it is true too that you can become so familiar with something that you stop appreciating the depth of the issue at hand. Coca Cola may have got rid of the coca from their recipe, but they have kept the reference in their brand name. There aren’t many people who think twice about it now. It is so recognisable that it is considered irrelevant to most people what it means. It has become its own meaning, without needing to be broken down into smaller parts that explain the nature of the product. When it was made, it was appealing to the consumers to remind them that it contained coca in it. Only 20 years later they already didn’t want to drop the brand name, despite the namesake ingredient being removed. Now nearly everyone in the world know what the name Coca Cola refers to – it’s a mysterious black liquid that dentists and doctors warn you off during the day, then kick back and enjoy at night (probably). The most common thing I read in my research was that the recipe is secret and only a few select people know it; I wonder if they still get the caffeine from African Kola nuts… Who am I kidding, they obviously grow caffeine in labs now.
It’s coming up to 6 months since I was diagnosed and I’m nearly at the end of the 12 sessions of chemotherapy. The current routine has all become very familiar for me and perhaps, even, normal. I’m able to analyse a chemotherapy cycle and decide whether it is bad, good, or somewhere in the middle fairly quickly. My condition seems to finally have stabalised of new symptoms popping up too which is a relief – I was getting tired of raising new symptoms with my oncology team and hoping to be patient zero for that particular side effect. The jaw locking was the closest I came, but they shrugged it off as another muscle response to temperature. I’d always be excited to bring my new issues up during the check in calls, seeing it as a game where I was trying to find just one symptom which seems to shock or worry them in any way. “My nose has been bleeding again and I never used to get nosebleeds,” I enthusiastically say during a check in call. “Your platelets are lower than usual so it isn’t a surprise,” they reply in a monotone voice, thinking about whether they want a sandwich or soup for lunch. Damnit, I really am just another cancer patient aren’t I – a realisation even more degrading than getting the cancer in the first place.
The end of chemotherapy will certainly constitute a shakeup to the normality of the current situation. If I am told that I am going for an operation it will constitute an earthquake in comparison, in both a positive and negative sense. Positive because I will have finally been approved for surgery. Negative because I will have been approved for surgery – has anyone ever been excited at the prospect of surgery? Whatever happens, it’ll be the next phase. I’m learning to embrace progress instead of always hoping for improvement.
With the writing specifically, I’m going to try and establish a core aim when I am writing, instead of my current ‘freeflow’ approach. Although it is fun starting writing and not really knowing where you are going, it wasn’t the approach I had when I first started writing in the blog. I thought it may have just been a development in the way I write, but if I’m being honest with myself, it is probably more out of laziness. Perhaps a little bit down to not being confident enough in my writing too. Sitting and researching something to write about is something that actual journalists do – not Cancer Dan with the Cancer Blog. I’m not sure why I’d see this as some sort of barrier to entry. In typical fashion, I’m probably worried more about how things are being perceived and how I may be judged for then, as opposed to concentrating on just writing things I like and want to write. It’s annoying and I need to stop thinking about it like that.
So, things you’ve (possibly) learnt in this article – coke is for drug addicts, Dan can’t write coherently and this blog post talking about aimlessness has a real aimless feel to it. Voila. Like any resolution, I’ll start abiding by it next time I write.